Leaving it to the Officials, Whenever Possible

Cliff Stoll’s love, Martha, addressed his ethical concerns as he tracked down a hacker in his book, “The Cuckoo’s Egg.” Most people value privacy. Martha personally wouldn’t care to invade anyone’s privacy, but she encouraged Cliff to compromise the privacy of several users when it allowed him to find one hacker. She minimized concern for punishment by saying, “the worst it would be is invasion of privacy … so I don’t see why you can’t” (Stoll 23). Later, she suggested that – depending on the circumstances – the hacker might even be the “good guy.” The ethical implications of Cliff’s attempts are challenged as she says, “maybe this hacker is closer to us politically than those security people. What if you’re chasing someone on your own side?” (Stoll 82). Loyalty and the importance of privacy are two of the ethical issues addressed by Martha.

Loyalty to one side also means commitment in fighting the opposition. If the hacker shared the same political agendas with Cliff, and was hoping to improve the world through such hacking attempts, then it would relatively be ethically right for Cliff to support the hacker. Being in favor of the U.S. government, however, it was Cliff’s ethical responsibility to fight the hacker.

Sometimes it would be too difficult, or impossible, to enforce a law without invading privacy. In this situation, the privacy of several users was compromised at the cost of watching a hacker. If everyone was legally allowed to watch what anyone else was doing at any time, then there would be no assurance of privacy. However, it’s important that some law enforcers are permitted to breach privacy, on certain grounds, for detective work to progress. To keep individual privacy, citizens should be punished for invading the privacy of others unless such law enforcers refuse to take action. In Cliff’s situation, he is justified in watching the activity of all users, and in tracing phone calls, because the FBI wouldn’t look into the case themselves.

Flatter, Smaller, and One in Culture

Eventually, even if it takes a while, decisions that affect most or all of a population, will settle on what the majority prefers. When the majority of the Nephites were opposed to God, they chose to govern contrary to His commandments – selfishly engaging in war, and creating allies that promoted dishonesty (with the Gadianton robber’s, for example). When the majority of the city of Enoch favored God, they lived the law of consecration. “Flattening” the world, as described by Thomas L. Friedman in his book, “The World is Flat,” is preferable to the current majority of humankind because it seems to empower us to live more comfortably, to be able to get more accomplished in life, and to profit more than we could have in the past. The world is flattening because the majority of humankind wants it to.

Not only is the world flattening, but it’s getting smaller too. With Google Earth, I can visit Paris without leaving my bedroom. I can also drive around my own street, and see the apartment complex that I live in, using Google’s Street View. I don’t feel so far from my parents, who live 700 miles away, because I can hear their voices over the phone. I almost felt like I was able to visit my friend, in person, who lives 1,800 miles away, as I talked to her with my WebCam. Not all, but some of the same forces that are flattening the world, are making it smaller at the same time.

As the world is getting flatter and smaller, individuals are becoming more alike. Flattening applies to job opportunities and information availability, sure, but also to cultural diversity. British bands are finding fans in America, and American bands are becoming popular in Asia. Clothing fashions are being shared among nations. Core values, within a culture, will define the rate and direction that the culture allows itself to change. But in all, cultures are combining into one.

Don’t Make Yourself Too Comfortable

As I am getting older, I am beginning to hear more, specific, rules to making computer use a safe experience. I hear these rules and I think, “that’s right! How could anyone ever be safe without living that rule? I don’t remember MY parents giving me that rule.” That’s because the potential dangerous of computer use is increasing – for at least two reasons. Offenses are increasing as the number of Internet users is increasing and predators are becoming smarter. Our defense is decreasing as we are becoming more comfortable with the Internet – “letting down our guard.” Other than imprisoning predators, there is little that we can do to decrease the offensive side of Internet use. We can, however, personally improve our defense by learning and following Internet safety rules.

Increasing the Number of Individuals Capable of Open-Source Manipulation

I envision a time when any computer user running an open-source operating system, deciding to change it – whether to fix a bug, or simply to behave however they would prefer it to behave, it doesn’t matter – could command the OS to halt (all processes would pause immediately) and choose a portion of the OS to zero-in on. The screen would switch over to the “code” for this portion, or “module,” of the OS. The OS wouldn’t be coded in C++ or Java, but in the language native to the user. If the user were American then a description of the functionality and appearance of the module would appear in English on the screen. It would be very much like a Wiki. The user could change the functionality or appearance, save it (which would also add the change to a history, like a Wiki, or like CVS/SVN), and continue using their system. Each module would be compiled separately (like DLLs) so when the user is done modifying the OS it will immediately re-compile only the changed portion of the module and switch right back to running the OS as it did before the user commanded it to halt. This could be applied to any of the running open-source software.

Most of this is in place already. Open-source projects exist in shared repositories on the Internet. Testing such software can be done by any computer literate person that is capable of downloading and installing the software, but debugging and creating new code for the project requires programmers who are familiar with the language. Using native languages would enlarge the scope of individuals who are capable of fixing and developing software. I know that the idea isn’t new, and is far-fetched. But suppose we were stuck using a programming language; we could at least ease the transition between running software and modifying it by adding a “halt”, edit, “hot-compile” process at the OS level.

I am a programmer. If I used an open-source project, I could but wouldn’t consider fixing any bugs that I saw because I don’t want to deal with the hassle of getting the development environment setup, finding the problem in the code, re-compiling and re-installing. If, however, the program could “halt,” show me its code, and it could re-compile itself and continue processing immediately, I would be much more likely to fix whatever bugs that I notice.

Let’s Make the Internet Safer

This is a call for volunteers. The Internet Safety Wiki is designed as a resource for everyone to learn, share, and discuss topics, tips, and techniques to use the internet safely within the family, as a community, and individually. Please come and share what you know.

Visit the Internet Safety Wiki at: http://www.wiki.internetsafetypodcast.com/

The Internet Safety Podcast is another resource for learning:http://www.internetsafetypodcast.com/

Teach the People, then Enforce Laws

Driving is risky, and even more so when drivers are doing other things at the same time – such as eating, talking, or putting on make-up. Dr. Sanjay Gupta mentions that there has not been a decrease in traffic accidents since hands-free laws have been enacted and that the real concern is simply talking on the phone while driving rather than whether the conversation is hands-free or not. Unfortunately, the report does not compare the affects of talking to another person within the car, while driving, compared to talking to someone over the phone. I believe the affects would be the same.

Hands-free laws are not the most effective solution to improving driving conditions for two reasons. First of all, Dr. Gupta points out that eating and grooming, while driving, is more dangerous than talking on the phone. That means that if laws are to be enacted then restricting eating and grooming would decrease traffic accidents more than limiting cell-phone conversations to hands-free would. Secondly, these laws are created to prevent individuals from being distracted while driving so that there is less risk involved in driving. But enacting laws doesn’t teach principles, it just enforces them. It would be more effective to really get it into the minds of the people that risk increases significantly as they drive while eating or talking on the phone, than it would be to enforce laws and hope that they learn the principle on their own. When asked how he governed the city of Nauvoo, Joseph Smith responded, “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.” Instilling in the minds of the people, the risks involved with eating, grooming, and talking on the phone, while driving, is more effective in improving driving conditions than enforcing laws to restrict those activities.

See CNNs video at: http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/health/2008/03/11/gupta.hands.free.cell.cnn

Developing Divinely Endowed Talents

Heavenly Father has commanded us to learn from a variety of subjects, temporal and spiritual (D&C 88:79), and He makes every commandment possible to obey (1 Nephi 3:7). This commandment addresses both genders. That means that both women and men have the same directive to learn science, mathematics, and engineering. However, while subjects are not gender specific, they are individual specific. We have been endowed with strengths and talents that are unique to each of us (D&C 46:11-12). We shouldn’t avoid a subject just because popular culture associates it with the opposite gender. Heavenly Father is not pleased when individuals “hide the talent which [He has] given unto them, because of the fear of man” (D&C 60:2). It is our responsibility to discover what talents have been divinely given to us, and to develop those talents. Our Father will help us (Isaiah 41:10).

Traffic Enforcement on the Information Super Highway

The Internet was originally designed as a network to connect universities. Eventually it grew to include all who are willing to pay for access to that network. Few rules apply, other than what is required for security and privacy. Data can be transmitted freely. But Internet traffic is becoming increasingly congested – especially with the increase in video content available to download. That means that it will take longer for my e-mails to download while my next door neighbor is downloading pirated movies, for example. Fortunately, ISPs are currently considering attacking the two issues that arise from this, that is: congestion and legality. Secretly, ISPs are giving priority to different kinds of communication (such as allowing more e-mails to pass through for each movie that passes through, for example), and they are restricting the transmission of illegal content. But this shouldn’t be done secretly, costumers should know what restrictions are being put into play so that they can make plans accordingly.

See CNNs article at: http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/02/11/netvideo.ap/index.html

Technology in Religion

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). Ideally, the purpose of religion is to minister to the needs of individuals. As churches grow larger, however, there is a need to improve the administration aspect of religion as well: record keeping, publications and announcements, and so forth. Technological advancements are useful in improving administration. The risk involved is that, with the need to administrate, we may begin to neglect our responsibility to minister. Let us all be grateful for the tools that our Heavenly Father has given us, which help us to keep His church organized, and still remember to minister to people’s needs individually.

Writing Style as a Catalyst for Communication

Communication is the act of conveying a concept from one individual to another. Style is the manner in which that concept is communicated, and is determined by the intent of communication. Technical documents are typically concise, with the intent to clearly convey information. Letters are typically loose; intending to convey the author’s personality and feelings at the time the letter was written. Strunk and White’s “Element’s of Style” gives tips for writing style. While it may be true that the guidelines in that book are commonly accepted by many, they are still simply one style of writing. For example, the book says to treat the word “data” as plural instead of singular, writing “these data are misleading” instead of “the data is misleading” (Strunk and White 44). At first I thought the examples were backwards. I am accustomed to hearing “data” in the singular form, and would prefer to continue seeing it written that way. Choosing a writing style to match the audience can ease the process of communication, however a concept can still be communicated irregardless of style.